Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation by Drew D. Hansen

When Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped up to the microphone on August 28, 1963, 250,000 people filled the park in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Millions more were watching on television, as the networks covered the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom live on their evening news broadcasts. King looked out and thanked the crowd before beginning to read his prepared text. Other speakers of the day were limited to five minutes, but King was the last on the podium and the person that everyone had waited to hear. According to Drew D. Hanson in The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation, the crowd cheered and called for more as King read. After about ten minutes, he left the text and began preaching in the manner of the Baptist minister that he was. Among his words were "I have a dream."

With running commentary and description of the scene, Drew D. Hanson captures the emotion of the event and the speech in chapter one of his book. As a reader, I felt that I was there, even more than when hearing the recordings. I could not put the book down until I finished that chapter.

In the next chapter, Hansen explains how King drew upon the suggestions of his aides and from his previous speeches to prepare several drafts of the speech. It was a complicated process, and, in the end, King is most remembered for his on the spot inspiration, using blocks of texts from his sermons.

Hansen does not stop with praising of King and the speech. The final chapters are quite sad, as he reports that for the latter part of King's life, the dream became a nightmare. As the level of violence against and by blacks increased from 1963 to 1968, he was often ridiculed by many in the black community as a dreamer. Only his death stopped the downward slide of his popularity.

The author ends by chronicling the legacy of the Dream speech. For several years after the march, it was almost forgotten, but in the wake of King's assassination, it was rebroadcast, republished, and added to the great documents of the democratic curriculum. It is now the thing for which King is most remembered.

The Dream is a fairly quick read that should be out on library displays and in hands of readers during Black History Month.

Hansen, Drew D. The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation. CCCO, 2003. ISBN 0060084766

Monday, January 28, 2008

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson has turned from humorous autobiography to nearly straight biography with his latest book, Shakespeare: The World as Stage, written for the Eminent Lives Series from Atlas Books. He is not seeking laughs with this book, but his wit is still evident in some of his remarks about Elizabethan and Jacobean culture and about the stupidity of poor scholars trying to prove that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays. In this short book, he gets to the heart of the playwright's story and still entertains.

Bryson still finds room for interesting details.

  • Elizabethans blackened their teeth to suggest they could afford as much sugar as the people with rotten teeth.
  • Eton students were required to smoke for their health and were beaten if they neglected their pipes.
  • Printing of the First Folio was botched. No two copies came out the same. The Folger Library owns about one third of the remaining copies, and most of them are missing pages or entire plays.

I was most fascinated by Bryson's discussion of Shakespeare's impact on the English language, which was evolving away from Middle English during his day. The playwright is credited with the first recorded use of 2035 words, of which over 800 are in common use. Frugal, dwindle, horrid, barefaced, and zany are words he coined, as are many un- words, like unhand, unmask, and untie. Another very interesting discussion was the unauthorized publication of The Sonnets and scholars great efforts to ignore their homosexual references.

Despite Bryson pointing out frequently that we really know very little about the Bard, I feel I know him better. This is a great read for people who enjoy the plays.

Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare: The World as Stage. Atlas Books, 2007. ISBN 9780060740221

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg

Having commitments to a couple of different reading discussions, I found myself reading Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg at the same time that I was listening to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Written sixty years apart, these two books are not naturally lumped together, but they merged a little in my mind due to circumstances. There are common traits that jump out out me.

Both books look back to times of crisis and change in our country. Tree is set in Brooklyn from about 1903 to 1919, when there were many immigrants settling in the city's tenements and the country joined the allies in World War I. Dream is set in Chicago during World War II, when there is a labor shortage and young women are kissing their beaus goodbye. In both, the cities are vital to the plot. (Kitty is always shopping at Marshall Fields.)

In both books, the central characters are young women coming of age. Of course, Tree is more of a coming-of-age story as we follow Francie Nolan from before she can read to the point that she is ready to go off to college (without having gone to high school). In Dream, Kitty Heaney is already past high school and working. Still, the women share some experiences. They both work in factories at some point in the books, and their incomes help their families. Both feel great pride in helping their families financially. They entertain soldiers before they go off to war. Both escape romantic relationships.

Unmarried mothers and their problems are subplots in both stories.

Reading is important to both Francie and Kitty. Francie reads much more, as she is nearly friendless. It is reading that allows her to rise out of her dire situation. Kitty is much more social, but reading books that have been recommended ignites her character development.

Both books include many details of daily life, including feminine hygiene. In 1943 Smith was being rather bold in including menstruation in Francie's story. Writing in the twenty-first century, periods and missing them is not risky content for Berg.

Both young women adore their fathers. In Francie's case, her father is her main champion, even though he is an alcoholic who can not support the family. He somehow still knows when she needs a kind word or a flower. Kitty's father is a fairly steady guy, who likes to give advice in the dead of night.

Of course, similarities end when you look at the intent of these stories. Kitty is a sort of average woman, a fictitious host for all the typical experiences of women during World War II. There is nothing, however, average about Francie Nolan, who finds hope where it should not be. Her character is memorable.

I liked both books, but I think that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the book that people will still be reading fifty years from now.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen

Our energy and resources footprint on this earth is huge, according to The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen, but there are many things we can do to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Use wooden baseball bats, which are safer and made from from a renewable resource. Aluminum mining and manufacturing is terribly energy wasteful and environmentally destructive.

Use a commercial car wash instead of washing your car at home to save lots of water.

Keep your microwave clean to keep it energy efficient. Use it to warm up leftovers (instead of the conventional oven) to save energy and lots of money. Cook with it when you can.

The manufacture of laptop or notebook computers uses fewer materials and less energy than desktop computers. Using these smaller computers is also more energy efficient.

Use a voicemail service instead of an answering machine to save energy and non-renewable resources.

The lists of earth-friendly ideas goes on and on. Most are actually very easy if you can just remember to do them, such as share a bigger bag of popcorn at the movies instead of buying two bags.

The authors include reasons with all of their suggestions, sometimes speculating on how great an impact each act would make if adopted by great numbers of people. For instance, if every person flying would pack ten pounds lighter, 350 million gallons of jet fuel would be saved each year. To support their numbers, the authors include fifty pages of web references in the back of the book.

With every chapter, the authors also include celebrity green advice. Will Ferrell drives an electric car, and Jennifer Aniston takes a three minute shower. Instead of tips, other celebrities, such as Robert Redford, explain why they are environmentalists.

This cute little book is inexpensive and definitely belongs in every library.

Rogers, Elizabeth and Kostigen, Thomas M. The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time. Three Rivers Press, 2007. ISBN 9780307381354

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

I hesitated before I checked out the audiobook of The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. I had passed it over numerous times when looking for a book to listen to in the car. I was unsure whether I wanted to enter the brutal world of Trinity School again. I had been disturbed by the book back in the 1970s. Would it seem as horrible now?

Thirty years have not lessened the horror of The Chocolate War. It is as creepy as ever. The battle between Brother Leon and Archie Costello of The Vigils, involving side battles with freshman Jerry Renault and a subtle power struggle within The Vigils, is still compelling reading. The difficulty of a second reading is knowing that the end will be ugly, just as the opening line of the book tells readers that it will be.

Looking at a synopsis in Masterplots II after I finished the audiobook, I noticed that essayist said The Chocolate War was fast-paced. I disagree. Cormier lets the reader linger in every tense moments, never rushing anything. He lets scenes mature before advancing. The reader is never let off with diluted drama.

I enjoyed listening to the book read by George Guidall, 6 1/2 hours. Another version is available read by Frank Muller in only 5 hours and 38 minutes, with an introduction by the author included. I do not know if a quicker reader could be as dramatic.

I wonder what impact the book had, if any, on schools. I notice that they still send their students out selling calendars, coupon books, wrapping paper, fruit, and chocolates. I sense that students in my area have the choice to participate or not, but I remember feeling pressure to sell when I was a student. So, did the book help? A search of the ERIC database returns lesson plans for teaching the novel in literature classes, but I see no reports on the conduct of school fund raising mentioning the title.

I just noticed that Cormier also wrote Beyond the Chocolate War. Dare I enter that world again?

Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. Recorded Books, 1993. ISBN 1402522940

Monday, January 21, 2008

Wendell Berry in World Ark Magazine Digitized

Yesterday, I drove my daughter Laura back to Iowa City for her spring semester at the University of Iowa. I've heard remarks about how dull a drive it is along Interstates 88 and 80 - about how there is nothing to see. I disagree. I paid particular attention yesterday and discovered that there was almost always farmhouses, barns, or other agricultural buildings in view. There were vast fields covered in light snow, ponds covered in ice, rivers to cross, and cows and horses breathing out steam in the cold. Near the Mississippi River, I saw a bald eagle circling right over the highway. A redtailed hawk sat on a post. Rather than a void, the land between the western Chicago suburbs and the college town is rich farmland, especially lovely with the snow.

This morning I read the January/February 2008 issue of World Ark, which includes an interview with novelist/poet/farmer/environmentalist Wendell Berry. Berry has written a lot about farmland and the people of rural America. He'd be able to read the land along the Interstate and know which family farms are thriving and which have been taken over by corporations. The maintenance of the barns and house would shout at him. In an interview on pages 16-19, he says that he regrets how our urbanized society has lost touch with its food supply and discusses how even city neighborhoods can reconnect with land. He suggests models from the past to make the future better. Ancient Greek cities included farmland to keep them self-sufficient.

World Ark is a publication from Heifer International, which sponsors giving farm animals to third world countries. I suspect only contributors ever see its articles. I checked Worldcat to see how many libraries carry World Ark and found only five.

There is a way, however, for many people to read this article. Heifer International posts the entire issue on its magazine on its website using services of Nxtbook Media. Click on a page of the magazine and the digital reader turns to the next. The magazine allows zooming, bookmarking, stick notes, saving, and printing. without my having to download any software.

Libraries could use similar digital publishing on their websites for annual reports, tutorials, or online children's books.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Joe Filisko Shines at Friday at the Ford Concert

What a night! Sixty-three people came to the Thomas Ford Memorial Library on a very cold January evening to hear Joe Filisko, a Chicago-based harmonica artist, play the blues. With the meeting room nearly full, he did just that and more. In the end, he got a standing ovation, something rare for our coffeehouse concerts.

Knowing how cold it would be, I wondered before the concert how many people would come. A morning phone call from Ohio (two states away) was a clue that it might be a special night. Word had gotten out among people who love harmonica that Joe was playing a free concert at the library. As soon as I open the front door, people came in, and I was concerned at one point that we might not have enough room. I gave up the seat I had staked out. Luckily for me, the crowd and room balanced with a nice mix of regulars and newcomers.

Joe began his program by humbly explaining the situation. His partner for the night had a family emergency, so he was alone on the stage. This was something that he and I had discussed earlier in the week. He prepared a special program that he had been contemplating for years, highlighting the many ways a harmonica could be played. The program was not a lecture - it was a virtuoso performance.

Joe started with a piece that he had composed himself, which started quietly and had an atmospheric quality, something many people would not associate with harmonica. Then he played "Amazing Grace" to demonstrate many harmonic playing styles. I was really surprised in the third verse by how like a bagpipe that it sounded.

Then Joe got down to the blues, folk, c&w, and Cajun songs. I particularly liked a medley of songs by Deford Bailey, one of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry. He followed with a song by Peg Leg Sam, who Joe described as a snake oil salesman who used the harmonica in his pitches. On this song, Joe sang and performed harmonica gymnasts, playing the instrument from many angles and even without hands. It is hard to describe. You have to see it to believe it.

Joe also played blues pieces by Henry Whitter, Sonny Terry (who was featured on a postage stamp), and Big Walter Horton.

For many of the songs that he played, Joe held up old vinyl record albums while he described the artists from whom he learned the songs. Most were from small regional recording companies, and I thought that they lent a nice eclectic touch. I bet the records would all be hard to find now. He also had an over-sized harmonica that he hung behind him and used to explain some techniques.

The Western Springs Library Friends, who underwrote the evening, served refreshments, we all stayed warm, and Joe played for nearly an hour and a half. Lots of people swayed to the music. It was a great night.

Joe said that he would like to play other libraries. His contact information is on his website. I recommend him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Fellow Americans by Keir Graff

" Now let's go out and bring democracy to America!" said George Libby.

Wow, this was more than I expected. My Fellow Americans by Keir Graff is a fun book to read but disturbing to contemplate. The story moves quickly, and I kept the book near, so when I had time, I could read another section. The central character Jason Walker never gets to rest, and I did not either until I finished the book.

The setting is familiar, especially to me since I live outside Chicago, but something has gone wrong. A tall building is being built along the Chicago River, and Jason Walker likes to take pictures with his old film camera. The president (never named but he was in office when the planes slammed into the World Trade Center) is in his third term. I think I'll stop here on the description of the plot because the reader needs to discover it.

If I were going to analyze, I would mention the book 1984 and the film Brazil. I might also bring up the new book The Suicide of Reason by Lee Harris, which I have not read, but I suspect some of the characters in the book have and taken it to heart. My Fellow Americans would be a good book to discuss.

If there are discussions, I suggest this question: Why does the author always refer to his characters by their full names? In his narration, he never says "Jason," "Gina," "Chad," or "Leo" except in dialogue. I think the author has a reason.

I urge more libraries to add this book.

Graff, Keir. My Fellow Americans. Severn House, 2007. ISBN 9780727865229

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith by Janann Sherman

With Senator Hillary Clinton running for the nomination for U.S. President, it is a good time to remember Senator Margaret Chase Smith. It would also be a good time for libraries to display No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith by historian Janann Sherman.

In 1964, Smith, a moderate senator from Maine, ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. President. She was the first serious woman candidate for the high office. At that point, she had been in Congress twenty-four years, many as the only female senator. She was not expected to win the nomination, but there was serious discussion of her chances to be Barry Goldwater's running mate. The Arizona senator said that he would have no qualms about a female on the ticket, and she seemed to lean farther right in the period before the 1964 Republican Convention. In the end, it did not happen, and Smith was lukewarm in her support of the Goldwater-Miller campaign.

One of the great early stories of her life is how Smith had to borrow sixty dollars from her grandfather to go on the high school trip to Washington, D.C. She was inspired by seeing all the monuments and met some government officials. She had to pay her Yankee grandpa back with six per cent interest.

Though she was not a feminist, she hired mostly young women from her state for her staff and chastised her congressional colleagues for being bad boys when they acted out of self-interest or unethically. A widow, who said that she too busy with national affairs for a family, she faithfully sat at the bedside of her dying aide, Bill Lewis. Historian Janann Sherman's book is an admiring profile of a powerful woman who lived ninety-seven years, mostly in Maine.

I am putting No Place for Women in my book on biography.

I now need to find an updated biography of Shirley Chisholm.

Sherman, Janann. No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Rutgers University Press, 2000. 298p. ISBN 0813527228.

My Luis Tiant Toothbrush

My Luis Tiant toothbrush,
With a picture of his face
In the space you might see Big Bird,
The Road Runner, or Mark Grace.

My Luis Tiant toothbrush,
Lime green and somewhat fat,
I saw it in a dream.
Can you imagine that?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Librarians in the Jury Box by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell

The January/February 2008 issue of American Libraries includes an article that I appreciated and enjoyed, for it really speaks to what has happened in my life and in my library. It is entitled "Librarians in the Jury Box: Why Do Information Professionals Make Such Desirable Jurors?" by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell. It can be found on pages 50 to 54.

It has not happened recently, but the staff at my library has often gotten jury notices. In Cook County, Illinois, the jury system has a one day or one trial call. If you do not get assigned to a jury the day of your call, you are released. If you do, you serve until the case is done. Most of the staff has gone for the one day, or even no days, when there is a phone number to call ahead to see if any juries will actually be selected that day.

I have twice been interviewed by attorneys in the jury selection process and was selected both times. So, I'm two for two. In both cases many prospective jurors were being rejected, and I was retained after only a few quick questions. Maybe Maxwell is correct in saying that attorneys readily accept librarians.

The first case I served on concerned assault and battery. The defense attorney tried to discredit the witnesses but failed. The case took three days, and we found the defendant guilty.

The second was a medical malpractice case. The doctor being sued was not on the scene when an infant was injured during emergency delivery. It was the doctor's weekend off. The claim was that he had not filled out a form completely at one of the mother's prior examinations. The jury decided the form was irrelevant in the emergency delivery. The case took five days, and we found the doctor innocent.

Both experiences were very education and satisfying, and I would readily serve again. It would be interesting to hear other librarians report on their experiences as jurors. Have many of us served on juries?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Driving Lessons, a Film by Jeremy Brock

Bonnie brought home another great movie of which I had no knowledge, Driving Lessons. It stars Rupert Grint, who everyone will recognize as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. It is a contemporary story of a shy young man, pressed by his mother to get a job, who becomes the daytime companion for a retired actress. The film was written and directed by Jeremy Brock, who was one of the screenwriters of The Last King of Scotland. Scotland is about the only thing the films have in common, as Driving Lessons is very funny.

I do not want to give away too much about the movie, but I do want to encourage you to see it. One reason to do so is the great cast.

Rupert Grint does a great job as Ben Marshall. To date, he has not gotten many roles other than Ron Weasley. Perhaps he is being selective, and, if so, he has chosen very well. This film shows that the audience can forget his known role after five or ten minutes into the story.

Julie Walters is Dame Evie Walton, a retired British actress who needs someone to do chores and take her to appointments around London. Ironically, she is Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, but I did not recognize her. She is alternately sensible and outrageous.

Laura Linney is Laura Marshall, Ben's mother, who is teaching him to drive. She has many expectations for her son, and she takes her role as the vicar's wife a little too far. You may remember her from The Squid and the Whale and from The Truman Show.

Nicholas Farrell is the vicar, Robert Marshall. I have been a fan of his since he was Aubrey Montague, an aristocratic athlete in Chariots of Fire. He was also in The Jewel in the Crown, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, and many series shown on Masterpiece Theater and Mystery. In this film, he is as shy as his son.

Teens will like this movie, as it shows how hard it is to deal with crazy adults. It will also appeal to Harry Potter and Masterpiece Theater fans. I would further suggest the movie to people who enjoyed Harold and Maude. Like the old cult classic, it has a frustrated young man with an overbearing mother, and he becomes attached to a wild old lady.

According to Worldcat, 307 libraries own copies of the DVD of Driving Lessons. They should put it on display. It'll get snapped up.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chaucer by Peter Ackroyd

Being a poet gained Geoffrey Chaucer entry into many nobles' courts, but it did not pay his rent. According to biographer Peter Ackroyd in his compact volume Chaucer, to keep his apartment above Aldgate Gate, where he could see everyone entering and leaving London to the east, the son of a wine merchant had to keep accounts for the King, gather tariffs and taxes, and represent the British crown on missions abroad. While in Italy and France, Chaucer always listened to the poets, noting their cadences, voices, and storytelling. In London, when not involved in lawsuits, he wrote and recited his poems.

Ackroyd says that Chaucer was very private and guarded person in many ways. He had to be in the employ of the crown in an especially violent time in London. There were many kidnappings, murders, and rapes, the latter a crime of which the poet was accused but settled out of court. Reading the poetry is one of the keys to understanding him. His work shows him to have a complicated group of interests and to be drawn more to bawdy comedy than art. He was more heard than read in his own time, as he presented his poems at many social gatherings.

Chaucer was not the first British poet, but with Troilus and Criseyde and Canterbury Tales, he wrote the rules for the next seven century of English verse. Ackroyd quotes extensively from them without translating the Middle English to modern spellings. I was surprised how much I could read of it if I sounded it out.

In the introduction, the author states that this is the first of a series of Ackroyd's Brief Lives. He added J. M. W. Turner to the series in 2006 and will release Newton later this year. Libraries should consider them all.

Ackroyd, Peter. Chaucer. Nan A. Talese, 2005. 188p. (Ackroyd's Brief Lives). ISBN 0385507976.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My Fellow Americans by Keir Graff Noted by Mary Schmich

In her column in the Chicago Tribune today, Mary Schmich tells about the books that are piling up on her desk, and the first she highlights My Fellow Americans by Keir Graff, a senior editor at Booklist. Many of us in the library world also know that Keir is the daily blogger who brings us Likely Stories. It is a rare day when he does not have an interesting bit of publishing news or reflections on controversies in the book world.

Schmich scans the book quick and is much amused by the character Ronald Flush, a billionaire developer, who is building a very tall building where the Chicago Star-Tabloid used to stand. I hope she finds time to read the entire book.


Schmich also lists other books with a Chicago setting. The other title that interests me is Chicago Afternoons with Leon: 99 1/2 Years Old and Looking Forward by Kenan Heise (ISBN 9781434347374), a biography of an alderman who was a thorn in the side of the original Mayor Daley. I do not find it in any library and Baker and Taylor has no inventory. Amazon has it. I'm trying to get it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family by Richard Avedon

At this point in time, when a new political star may be rising, The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family by Richard Avedon is a very interesting book. Could the United States ever have another first family with the style and confidence of the Kennedys? Are there photographers who could frame them the way Avedon did the Kennedys on January 3, 1961?

In some ways, this book is just about a day-long photo shoot of the president-elect and his family at a vacation home in Florida. Not all of the details are clear. Whose idea was the session? Did Jacqueline Kennedy choose Avedon after having denied many previous photo proposals? The people who could answer these questions have all died without addressing these questions. What is clear, however, is that Avedon took indoor and outdoor photographs, and then he submitted high impact articles to both Look and Harper's Bazaar from the images taken that day.

There are some preliminary photos in the book, showing Jackie as a camera assistant at the Washington Times-Herald in 1953, the couple at their wedding, and Avedon photographing Elizabeth Taylor. With these is text by Shannon Thomas Perich, a curator at the Smithsonian, telling about the photographer's career, about the impact of the articles, and about the donation of all the negatives and proofs to the Smithsonian. Best of all, there are copies of all the contact sheets from the indoor sessions and illustrations showing how Avedon touched up the photographs to make great portraits.

My daughter really liked the series of photographs of father and daughter. Caroline holding her father's hand to her cheek is outstanding. The series of Caroline holding her six-week old brother is also guaranteed to please anyone who likes babies and small children. These joyous photos contrast with the shots of JFK and Jackie, who seem a bit reserved. It is hard to look at these photos without layering them with the tragedies to come.

Readers interested in the art of photography or in the history of the presidency will find this book fascinating. It is a standout among the hundreds of books about the Kennedys.

Avedon, Richard. The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family. Collins Design, 2007. ISBN 9780061138164.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński

In 1955, when young Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński mentioned to his editor that he would enjoy going abroad, he was thinking about Czechoslovakia. He was stunned when she called him to her office and announced that he was going to India, a country that was pursuing better relations with Soviet-era Poland. He knew little about the country. He knew nothing about its languages. As a sort of odd parting gift, she handed him a copy of the new Polish translation of The Histories by Herodotus.

The trip to India was only the first of many trips described in Travels with Herodotus. He soon was stationed in China and later spent many years in Africa as the only Polish correspondent for a continent. Wherever he went, he took his book. As he read, he began to wonder more about the ancient Greek, whose situation must have been much like his own in some ways. How did Herodotus get his stories? Did he have troubles with translators? Was he suspected of being a spy? Was he a spy? Why did the Greek write up his travels when there was no publishing as we know it now?

Travels with Herodotus has two story lines, one set in fifth century B.C.E. and the other in the 1950s to 1990s. The ancient story gets the greater emphasis, as Kapuściński tells us much about the lands Herodotus visited. There is an especially long section about the wars between Greece and Persia. As a reader, I wish the author had told us more about his own experiences instead. The first few chapters about when he went to India and China led me to expect more of his own story. Perhaps I was reading the wrong book. It appears from the author bio that Kapuściński, who died in 2007, wrote many other books about his experiences.

I do now better understand Herodotus and ancient Greek perception of the known world. I also found the stories of ancient wars relevant to today. In one, the Greeks and Persians have been lined up against each other for weeks, but lacking favorable omens, both have delayed their attacks. In the meantime, a banquet is held to which warriors from both armies are invited. Over dinner one Persian tells one Athenian how sad he is that so many of his men will die in the coming days. The Athenian agrees but says that a soldier is bound to do as he is commanded even when no good will come of it.

Some history readers will enjoy the book, which I recommend to larger public libraries.

Kapuściński, Ryszard. Travels with Herodotus. Knopf, 2007. ISBN 9781400043385

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Reference Librarian Hero

“I expedite the use of the library,” Mr. Smith said over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, explaining just what it is he does. “I’ve been called a connector. I’m in a position to save people time. I know where to find things.” (NYT, 12/31/07)

These are wonderful words from David Smith, a reference librarian about whom the New York Times has written. They say just what we should strive to do at the reference desk. We do it every day, so it seems a bit strange to think of it as a remarkable mission, but it surprises people to find someone so helpful.

Placed where he is in the New York Public Library, Mr. Smith assists many famous writers. The article includes their praises of the librarian. Roy Blount, Jr. was shocked when Smith offered his help. Why are people so scared of librarian?

Read and be inspired.

Roberts, Sam. "The Library's Helpful Sage of the Stacks." New York Times. December 31, 2007. Page E1.

The Pocket Guide to African Mammals by Jonathan Kingdon

Recently, ecotourism in Africa has been hurt by fear of terrorism and political unrest. While current events in Kenya are troubling, there are still safe countries to visit, including Tanzania and Botswana. These countries need tourist dollars to continue to protect their wildlife. Going on camera safari is still a wonderful thing to do. If you go, you will need a field guide to mammals. The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals by Jonathan Kingdon is an excellent choice.

Jonathan Kingdon has previously published numerous larger works on the mammals of African and on human evolution. Distribution of these mostly academic books in public libraries is rather spotty. With the pocket guide, public libraries should take notice and add it to their collections. It is authoritative, affordable, and easy to shelve until it is borrowed and taken to Africa.

The pocket guide is a handy item to have while sitting in a Land Cruiser near an African water hole where the animals congregate. It shows more of the small mammals than other guides than I have seen. Kingdon's illustrations will help you distinguish between a gerenuk and a springbuck, between a wild boar and a bush pig, and between bush hyrax and tree hyrax. He includes continental distribution maps, tells you animal habitats, and describes behaviors.

This colorful pocket guide is also good for libraries that have students with animal assignments. It should be shelved with The Safari Companion by Richard D. Estes, which goes into greater depth about African mammal behaviors.

Kingdon, Jonathan. The Pocket Guide to African Mammals. Princeton University Press, 2004. ISBN 0691122393

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven by Susan Richards Shreve

Thanks to Maggie for recommending this book, which I enjoyed.

In 1951, when novelist Susan Richards Shreve was eleven years old, she was sent to Warm Springs, Georgia for the treatment of polio. Unlike some of the children who were in full-body casts or iron lungs, she was relatively mobile. Because she had contracted a milder form of polio as an infant and had recurring episodes, she could walk in an awkward manner, but at the foundation she chose a wheelchair to be like her love-at-first-sight boyfriend Joey Buckley. She tells of her two years there in Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven.

Readers might at first think that Shreve had a total lack of good sense. She excelled at getting into trouble for complete ignoring the advice or commands of adults. Several accidents could have been avoided if Shreve had not created odd situations. As a young girl, however, she seems to have had a much better understanding of her fellow patients than staff. When asked to stop agreeing with Joey that he might someday play football for the University of Alabama, she refused. She knew that the severely crippled boy needed his dreams as a source of strength.

What I find hard to imagine now is how young children were so casually separated from their families at a time when they endured painful surgeries. The kids had to support each other after their reconstructions, surgeries moving muscles to new locations in their bodies. Shreve also seems to have been able to roll into nearly any room she chose.

Shreve is best when telling about her own misadventures. Warm Springs is a must read for those who enjoyed her novels. At times humorous and always readable, it would be a good book club book for older baby-boomers who remember the time.

Shreve, Susan Richard. Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven. Houghton Mifflin, 2007. ISBN 9780618658534.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh

Happy New Year!

It's self-help book season. I am not usually fond of personal psychology books, but if I see practical titles, I may glance at them. It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Australian organizational consultant Peter Walsh caught my eye. People hire the author to come into their homes and help them dig out from their over-abundance of things, and he has talked about what he does on television and in magazine articles. What he offers is mostly just common sense, but that is sometimes in short supply. That's why we have self-help books.

The author begins by describing our current situation. Many people have filled their houses with things, and those of financial means are trying to cope by adding onto their houses, buying bigger houses, putting some of their things in "temporary" storage, or even buying second houses. He thinks this is ridiculous. Having so many things rarely makes anyone happier. He proposes having fewer things.

Walsh indicates that people will not succeed in clearing their houses of clutter unless they first clear their minds of the bad thinking that leads them to buy and retain so many things. He recognizes that there may be legitimate sentimental reasons to keep some items, but he urges self-examination. If one's dream house is being fouled by the clutter, it is time to establish principles and act upon them.

The plan that Walsh proposes is called F.A.S.T.

  • Fix a time to work.
  • Anything that has not been used in twelve months goes.
  • Someone else's stuff gets returned if possible and pitched if not.
  • Trash (anything that is no longer usable) is taken out.

The author offers ideas for every room in the house and for prevention of clutter in the future. I suspect everything that he says has been in other anti-clutter books, but he is entertaining without being smug, and there is an obvious need for his advice. Many libraries should consider this book.

Walsh, Peter. It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff. Free Press, 2007. ISBN 9780743292641

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Cookie, the Major Mitchell's Cockatoo

Bonnie and I often go to the Brookfield Zoo on New Year's Day, which is open every day of the year. Being a cold snowy day, there were not many people about the place, so we had good views wherever we went. We were glad that we went, for we saw many active animals, many exhibiting interesting behaviors, such as howling or calling. Hudson the polar bear was playing a blue plastic toy. We saw the baby gibbon from afar. A quartet of penguins was rapidly swimming around in the Living Coast tank. A guenon was howling in th Tropic World indoor rainstorm.

On most of trips to the zoo, we stop by the Perching Bird House to see Cookie, its oldest resident. Cookie was there when the zoo open in 1934. No one really knows how old he is. At his latest physical exam, his bone density was low, so he now has a special sunlamp to help him get more vitamin D.

I posted another photo of Cookie, a nice orangutan shot, and many snow scene photos in a folder on Flickr called Snowy Day at Brookfield Zoo. Take a look.